Q&A: Get to know the candidates for Spring ISD board of trustees Position 3

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Justine Durant
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Ernest "Saul" Thomas
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John Lopez
John Lopez is running against incumbent Justine Durant for Position 3 on the Spring ISD board of trustees. Early voting runs from Oct. 21-Nov. 1, and Election Day is Nov. 5.

Justine Durant*
Website:
www.bestcandidates4springisd.com

Occupation:
director, Cigna Healthcare

Experience: Professional: bachelor’s degree in management and accounting; director of provider relations at Cigna Healthcare; finance department at Tenneco Oil and Gas; Career and Technical Education professor, community college

Community Service: SISD board of trustees; Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc. Leadership and Connection Chair; board of directors, Greenhouse International Church and Texas Associations of School Boards Legislative Committee

I have served on the SISD [board of trustees] since November 2006. Over the past 13 years, I have served in many roles on the board including president, vice president, and assistant secretary. I bring to the position over 20 years of experience as a volunteer in the Spring community. I have served as a dedicated board member, parent teacher organization president, I incorporated both the Claughton Middle School and Wunsche High School PTOs, president of the Westfield Lariette Booster Club and as a former Brownie and Girl Scout troop leader. Through my volunteerism as a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated since 1978, I have served my community with various community projects and priorities to be of supreme services to all mankind.

My educational background with a degree in management and accounting uniquely qualifies me for the leadership and fiscal responsibilities required as a member of the SISD’s board of trustees.

Top priorities: Continue improvement of student academics, keeping our kids safe on our campuses, teacher retention and development, governing through equitable policy, ensuring the board is fiscally responsible

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing SISD, and how will you work to address them?
A) Increasing the academic success of all students:
As a board member, I will continue to work to provide our scholars with a rigorous curriculum. Providing pathways and choices for their education. Enhance our efforts on both teachers and administrators professional development. We need to continue to make literacy a key priority within our district to move the needle on student's success.

Governing with a focus on literacy, teacher retention, safety, early childhood learning, and college readiness will be key to address these challenges. I am a proponent of full-day pre-K for all students. Preparing our students with a strong foundation early in their education is critical to their academic success.

Working to ensure all students receive a rigorous high-quality education. We must also address increased mobility rates, a diverse group of students and special education challenges.

B) School funding:
Our legislator's failure to address the fair and equitable distribution of funding, while continuing to impose public education with unfunded mandates, inflicts an added financial burden on school districts and taxpayers. Though this year's legislative sessions did address school funding with House Bill 3, I believe there is still a need to better compensate public education. I plan to continue my role representing SISD’s as a member of the Texas Association of School Board Legislative Committee, lobbying in Austin and working with other school board delegates to carry our message and demand that policy and equitable funding occurs to support public education.

I will also continue to work with the district to seek out other funding sources through business partnership, engaging our community stakeholders and available grants. In the past five years, SISD has received $18 million in additional funding through grants.

What will you do to keep SISD a competitive public school option as charter schools continue to become more prevalent in northwest Harris County?
By providing strong academic options that create and expand opportunities for our students. A key part of our strategic plan is to design and increase opportunities and choices for our scholars. By creating more opportunities and more choice within the district, we can build a strong reputation as a "district of choice" resulting in families choosing to live within our district because of our innovative, specialized programs.

We have also expanded our dual-credit courses for high school students. Through competitive pathways and partnerships, we have clear plans to increase the opportunities for students to participate in dual-credit courses. We have strengthened and expanded our university partnerships with Texas A&M, Lone Star College System, Lamar University and Prairie View A&M University. We have expanded our marketing of these opportunities to ensure both our students and families have awareness. We have also added dual-language courses in two of our elementary schools with plans to expand as funding allows.

Taking pre-Advanced Placement and Advanced Placement courses in middle school and high school helps students build the skills that they will need in college. Additionally, these courses on a student's transcript signal to colleges and universities that students have the required skills to be successful in their undergraduate studies, aiding many students in the college admissions process.

Lastly, students may be able to save money by taking AP courses since they could potentially earn college credits.

How will you work to improve A-F accountability ratings in SISD schools that have received low ratings?
First and foremost, research suggests that teachers matter more than anything else does when it comes to student academic success. I plan to work to ensure a focus on attracting and retaining high-quality teachers, excellent administrators and support staff to increase the accountability ratings and our students overall academic success.

Moving to improve our student’s achievement requires a strong and comprehensive quality curriculum. Students need the guidance of effective teachers in the classroom; effective teachers need a strong and steady course of study that they can rely on to guide them in their day-to-day.

It will also be key to implement student interventions and assessments then encourage student participation in the Districts tutoring programs during and after school in addition to those offered on Saturday.

Middle schools must be one of our top priorities. Though the majority of our middle schools did not receive favorable ratings, they did show some gains. We had already taken major steps to begin our course of improvement. With the opening of two new middle schools, The district’s Leadership Academy, building tomorrow’s leaders and Springwoods Village Middle School, focusing on the development of an International Baccalaureate program.

We also launched Lift 6, which is designed to transform the district’s six comprehensive middle schools needing improvement. The Lift 6 effort will use strategies and best practices found to be successful in improving middle schools academically. Those six strategies include:
A) A culture of high expectations
B) Effective principals and teachers in every school
C) Maximize learning time
D) Data-driven instruction
E) High-dosage tutoring
F) Safe and secure learning environments

The district has also placed a high focus on expanding a culture of high performance with our staff and teachers with the opening this summer of Spring’s TeachUp facility to provide firsthand professional development, simulated classrooms to allow our teachers to model and assess a successful classroom of learning.

As Spring ISD’s enrollment has slightly declined in recent years, how will you work to receive adequate funding from the state?
With a focus on:
A) Strategic partnerships
B) Grants
C) Good stewardship
D) Zero-based budget

In addressing the declines in enrollment and projections, the district has implemented key initiatives, which are beginning to yield a slight decline in the percentage previously influencing enrollment.

The implementation of our Every Day Counts initiative has begun to show some gains. This school year we added digital registration, which allows us to identify those students eligible for our free and reduced lunch.
I believe it is not only important to focus on enrollment but attendances as well; these are the methods that can affect school funding.

In addition, I will continue to work with the district in identifying and applying for available grant funds. The district has worked hard and has been highly successful in receiving over $18 million in additional funding from grants over the past several years.

How will you improve enrollment numbers in terms of student retention and dropout rates?
Addressing student retention and dropout rates are critical to the success of our students. The district has just launched our new app, which allows parents more ways to engage and be aware of their child’s grades, and attendances right on their devices.

Also, last year we increased the truancy officers in our police department to reach and aid our students with their attendance. We have seen gains with this program in improving attendance thus bring some stability to our funding.

We also have our 21st-Century Program that allows students to take a course to obtain the necessary credits to stay in school when there are obstacles, which prevent them from being able to attend during the day. We have our after-school program, our virtual high school, our mentorship program and both day and evening tutors and classes available.

Each year we conduct our Success Walk to go out into the community and knock on the door of students who have not returned and encourage them and their parents to return to school. This brings awareness to both the student and parent of alternative programs and opportunities offered to obtain their high school diploma and decreases our dropout rates.

As a dedicated hard-working member of the Spring community, I will continue to work hard for the success of all students in SISD.

John Lopez
Phone number: 281-736-6574
Email: Jklopez1121@gmail.com




Occupation: stay-at-home dad

Experience: Marine veteran, parent teacher organization president, homeowners association president, many SISD community boards


Top priority: every child succeeds

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing SISD, and how will you work to address them?
The biggest challenges in SISD are that disconnect the community is feeling from the district. We must create more community involvement opportunity. There must be a clear line of communication from the district to the community.

What will you do to keep SISD a competitive public school option as charter schools continue to become more prevalent in northwest Harris County?
To keep from loosing children to charter schools we need to keep the children engaged in the school. School needs to be a place children love to be at. If we can make the school environment enjoyable to be in, then kids would wake up wanting to go to school.

How will you work to improve A-F accountability ratings in SISD schools that have received low ratings?
Fixing our low accountability rating scores is no easy task. There is room for improvement in this area. Start first by holding those accountable that have been in trusted with this responsibility.

As Spring ISD’s enrollment has slightly declined in recent years, how will you work to receive adequate funding from the state?
To keep adequate funding we must keep our enrollment numbers up. If we can keep the children actively engaged in their school we will not loose them to charter schools. When children know that school is a safe, loving, and learning place, they want to come and thrive.

How will you improve enrollment numbers in terms of student retention and dropout rates?
Programs that interest early adulthood will help keep high schools retention rate. There needs to be more technical based learning. Programs that prepare students to go right out of high school and into the workforce. Programs that gives the students some opportunities to work in a workplace while going to school.

Ernest "Saul" Thomas
Email: kenyakthomas@sbcglobal.net



Occupation: Business owner/entrepreneur

Experience: 20+ year community member and business owner and parent of three SISD graduates

Top priorities: Impact positive change in education for SISD struggling students and decrease the dropout rate

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing SISD and how will you work to address them?
I believe the biggest challenges facing SISD are connecting with struggling youth and providing opportunities to ensure all students receive a high school diploma and strong employable skills. As a board member, I plan to work with district staff to expand opportunities and keep a watchful eye on high needs students.

What will you do to keep SISD a competitive public school option, as charter schools continue to become more prevalent in northwest Harris County?
In order for SISD to remain competitive, we must provide increased opportunities in areas that truly interest children and remain abreast of the ever-changing world of career and technical education. I would like to work with SISD to ensure career and technology programs are provided and expanded at all levels for our students. In addition, as successful entrepreneur, I would like to work to increase community partnerships and offer more opportunities for internships for our students. In addition, I would recommend the use of a survey to all families who left our district for the purpose of enrolling in private or charter programs to gain better insight into ways to decrease this trend.

How will you work to improve A-F accountability ratings in SISD schools that have received low ratings?
As a board member, I would work to improve the A-F accountability ratings in SISD by ensuring that high quality teachers are hired and that we provide increased salary incentives for teachers. Strong teachers is the only way we will improve instruction and thereby increase scores to have a positive impact on accountability ratings.

As Spring ISD’s enrollment has slightly declined in recent years, how will you work to receive adequate funding from the state?
The decline in enrollment is caused by multiple factors, most importantly the belief from parents that the quality of education we provide in SISD is inferior to other surrounding districts. As a board member, I plan to work and serve as a positive voice for this district from the perspective of a parent, active community member and business owner to change this image by addressing concerns honestly and proactively.

How will you improve enrollment numbers in terms of student retention and dropout rates?
In regards to decreasing the dropout rate and increasing retention, I would work to develop committees and campus groups specifically designed to monitor highly mobile campuses and provide their parents and students with additional support to ensure that they remain with the district by meeting all needs. In addition, I would like to work with school officials to provide increased opportunities for all students because as parents we know that involved students remain in school and disconnected students often time do not.

*Incumbent

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